Friday, June 14, 2013
Man of Steel
Let's be upfront right now: "Man of Steel" is not the movie that will make Superman cool. In fact, "Man of Steel" is something of a disaster. If the goal was to make Superman even more bland and forgettable in a over-complicated mess of a film without characters or mood or development, then I guess they flew right through all of Lex Luthor's rings. I think the idea here that Zack Snyder and Master Christopher Nolan had was to boil Superman down to just his pure archetypal core removing the goofy campy elements and slapstick, to create nothing but a grand heroic ubermench. And in the end, they boiled out all the flavor. Then they kept on going, until the meat of the characters limply slid off, leaving nothing but dead stinking bones in the pot.
I kept waiting for "Man of Steel" to get awesome. I had really high expectations for this one, and it wasn't until ten minutes after I left the theater that I realized how utterly awful this movie was. The trailers offered what seemed like a perfect perspective on the Superman character: mixing classic Americana with pure godlike special effects. The casting looked fantastic, offering what appeared to be a character study of Superman himself, how he mixed together his disparate elements of old-timey Wheat-fed American farmer upbringings and his ultimate superpowers from Krypton. Instead it was about nothing. Ultimately this whole movie is really about setting up a terrible hour-long CG fight scene that never ends. All the characters are flat and expendable, they exist as shades of cliches, and really its not about Superman or Krypton or archetypes. Its about long Michael Bay-style endless fight scenes.
The problem here is that "Man of Steel" gets so close to being that perfect Superman movie that the trailers suggested. Its almost there. If only the structure of the movie was actually concerned with the characters, if only Superman seemed to have any kind of personality, if only the ending wasn't trying to create the most ridiculous doomsday scenario to give all the CG artists something to do. There have been good Superman movies, there have been bad Superman movies*. But aside from obscure porn-parodies, this has to be the worst one I've ever seen. Sorry, pretty graphics don't save a film from lacking a soul.
I should have known this movie was going to be awful right from the very introduction. This was a huge bloated and honestly confusing Final Fantasy epic involving the collapse of Krypton. Ultimately the entire Krypton backstory should have been five minutes long, just to set up Superman and maybe Zod. Instead it was like twenty-minutes long, featuring an entire movie's worth of characters and plot points involving a weird society of eugenics and planet cores or something. And there are dragons, and talking computer screens with weird moving parts. Here's the thing, "Man of Steel": Krypton doesn't matter. We don't need to know its society, we don't need to see huge action scenes here, we need to get to Earth and get to Superman.
However, somehow the movie still doesn't quite take-off even once we have Superman on Earth. For whatever reason, the structure of Superman's backstory is chopped into pieces, with various cliffnote flashbacks thrown around the rest of the movie at random. Superman's main conflict in the movie is whether or not he should reveal himself to the world, mostly because of the religious and shocking cultural implications. But I don't get much of a sense that this is a real problem. Its made not a problem because there are evil aliens blowing up cities, so offending people's views of the world doesn't really matter anymore. I don't get much of a sense that three really is a Superman character or for that matter any other characters.
Johnathan Kent? He repeats one speech about keeping your powers hidden about three times. He also let's himself get killed by a tornado... for some fucking reason, I don't even begin to know. Mama Kent? She doesn't do anything at all. Lois Lane? She follows Superman around and engages him in an awful barely-written love story. General Zod? Just chews scenery a few times and screams. Jor-El? Blathers wisdom occasionally. You can tell a movie really has serious problems when major major Superman characters like Lois Lane are made as bland and expendable as Perry White. I would say there is a single good character in this whole movie, which should be all I need to say about why "Man of Steel" sucks.
There are a few actually decent fight scenes, especially an awesome fight between Superman and two of Zod's cronies in Smallville**. Its like a great "Dragonball Z" battle scene, done much better than the lame fight at the end of "Matrix Revolutions". But this is the lone really great fight scene. Later this followed by an endless sequence featuring world destroyers, giant silver mercury tentacles, cities melting, and a black hole. When really all forty minutes of this CG awfulness could have been cut down to just Superman vs. Zod. That's all you need. Two superpowered beings fighting. We don't need an apocalypse in Metropolis, then somehow have the city rebuild itself somehow, and then have Metropolis destroyed again by having Superman and Zod fight to the death. "Man of Steel" tries to outdo the dark climax of "The Dark Knight Rises". This is completely mistaken considering this is SUPERMAN, can't we just have a relatively lighthearted adventure?
Man, I miss Nuclear Man. And Richard Pryor. I miss "Superman Returns" now.
If you could imagine a more terribly soulless Hollywood-manufactured Superman film then "Man of Steel", keep those thoughts to yourself. This is the archetype of terrible Blockbusters, only with occasional pretensions of being something much more. Sorry guys. Get the CG artists, and the noise, and the shameless IHOP product placement, and the toys of the room, and get back to the point. Which is just having fun with basic superpowered characters. We can't even get the basics of two characters falling in love right anymore? We can't just have fun with impossibly-powered heroes without hours of dreary nonsense? Why is it that "Iron Man 3" had such a smaller scope and ambition and yet comes off as a million times more heroic, human, and entertaining? "Man of Steel" isn't as bad as "Green Lantern" but its exactly as awful as plenty of other horrifyingly mediocre superhero films. But hey, if you wanna see a movie as bland as "Thor" again, there's always "Man of Steel".
* Yeah, "Superman 3" and "Superman 4: The Quest For Peace" were cheesy and off-the-balls, but they were fun! They were silly, they had people in them, they were cartoony. They had something. This movie has nothing.
** I think these guys are supposed to be Zod's backup villains from "Superman II". There's one who female and looks pretty hot, so I guess she's supposed to be the girl from that movie. The other guy though is like ten feet tall, but we never see his face, maybe he's supposed to be the huge stupid guy? I don't know.